At the start of 2022-23 training camp, Hart Trophy winner Auston Matthews discussed his future contract negotiation in 10 months’ time, the difficulty of another first-round exit last Spring, and his goals for the new season after hitting the 60-goal milestone and winning league MVP.
With Nathan MacKinnon signing his contract extension yesterday, you seem like a guy who looks around the league and is attuned with other players’ situations in the league. How much does that impact you as a guy who in two years’ time might be hitting a similar stage?
Matthews: I am not sure. I am really happy for Nate. I have been lucky enough to play with him and get to know him. He is a pretty incredible player. I think that contract is much deserved. As far as my situation, I am not really too focused on that. It is still a couple of years away.
How much do you feel having success in the playoffs might be a factor — or not — in your thought process next summer if the organization hopes to extend you one year out from UFA? Are these things all tied together in your mind?
Matthews: I appreciate the question. I would like to be clear about the contract stuff. I am going to touch on it today, and I think that is it. I understand why I am being asked, but at the same time, I am focused on this season and on winning, continuing to improve, and helping push this team over the edge.
As far as that goes, I am just focused on this season and what is to come. When that time comes, we will deal with it. I think I have been pretty clear that I’ve loved my time here. I really love playing in the city of Toronto. I consider it home now. I have really enjoyed my time. My teammates have been incredible year after year. It is nice to have the support that this city brings. We are all working towards that one ultimate goal.
I appreciate the question, but I am not going to be entertaining this question all year. I understand why you guys want to talk about it, but at the same time, there is nothing that can be done. I am under contract for two more years. I can’t extend it for another 10 months. I will just kind of leave it at that, but I appreciate the question.
You mentioned Toronto feels like home now. It is a lot different than your actual home in Arizona. What is it that you like about the market and being here that has made it feel like a new home for you?
Matthews: Just the way the city embraces the players, the way it has embraced myself and my family. I have grown comfortable in my own skin here. It is not easy to do that at times, but I just think it is such a special place to play. And the guys I have been able to play with and I am still playing with today from my first year in the league until now — you build those relationships with the people in the organization and your teammates.
It is just a really special place to play. There is a lot of history here, and it is a big honour to go out every night and wear the Maple Leaf on my chest. It’s something I definitely don’t take for granted. I really appreciate it.
It has felt like home for a while. It is just an awesome place to play. I have really enjoyed my time.
A lot of people focused on your 60-goal season and Hart Trophy last year. You are not so much into personal accolades, but how do you absorb what you did last year? What do you expect of yourself going into this season?
Matthews: I think I just continue to try to improve and take it in stride. It means a lot to be named for those awards. There is a lot of hard work that gets put into those kinds of things, but at the same time, we are trying to accomplish something bigger than individual awards by winning the Stanley Cup.
For myself, I just try to continue to improve, put my best foot forward, be a leader on this team, and try to lead by example every day.
How long did it take you to mentally clear what happened last playoffs during the offseason and focus on what is next?
Matthews: It always takes a little while to kind of digest the season. It is a long season. Obviously, it ended with another very frustrating loss that was disappointing. It takes a little bit of time to digest and settle down. I like to go home, spend time with family and friends, and kind of get my mind off of hockey for a little bit after that.
Even speaking about it now, you still have a bit of a sour taste in your mouth. At the same time, I kind of look at it as a new opportunity for us — a clean slate and a new season. That is the main focus. After a couple of weeks or so, you turn the page and move on. You can’t change the past.
The playoff narrative with this team gets talked about a lot. How does the leadership group not let that be an elephant in the room? Has it met already to discuss that with the players prior to camp?
Matthews: I think it is a bit of a given that it is going to be a narrative. At the same time, we can only control what we can control. It is still important for us to have a good regular season and make sure we are building the right habits and playing the right way within our structure, etc.
I understand why there is all that kind of talk — rightfully so. At the same time, we can’t fast forward to the future. We still have to play seven or eight preseason games, 82 regular season games, and take it from there — take it in stride.
The main focus right now is just on training camp. It is going to be very competitive, and I think that is the way we want it. We are just going to continue to raise our level and our standard of play and continue to improve over the season.
For you and Mitch Marner, what is your next act, so to speak? You were at your place together over the summer. What do you look forward to with him and Michael Bunting as well as you look to take last season’s accomplishments forward?
Matthews: I think everybody is just looking to take a step in the right direction — a step forward individually and as a team. It is tough to sit here and talk about that. Everyone’s mind is on playoffs. That is completely understandable, but I think everybody has the same goal in mind. Everybody wants to continue to take individual steps forward in their game.
Personally, for myself — and I know for Mitch and Bunts as well — we want to take a step forward, continue to improve, be leaders on this team, and consistently go out there and play hard every night.
What stands out to you the most about how Kyle Dubas goes about his job?
Matthews: He is confident in himself and confident in us as players and as a team. That is what you want from your General Manager — that belief. Clearly, he believes in our group, our core group, and the players we have around us, as well as the coaching staff. It is nice to have that, so to speak, so you can go out there, play, and know you have his full support.